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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It is sometimes difficult to practice what you preach. In a small town, there were two brothers who, over the course of many years, cheated, swindled, and robbed from everyone they knew. The entire town despised them. One day, one of the brothers mysteriously died, and although they had never attended church, the one remaining brother went to the pastor and offered vast sums of money if he would officiate at the funeral and say some appropriate words. And for a large added bonus to the church, he would increase the amount if the preacher referred to his brother as “a Saint.” The pastor was troubled by the request, however, it was a very poor congregation and the church desperately needed repairs. The parishioners had heard about the pastor’s dilemma and were curious as to what he would do. Well the funeral began, the church was packed, and the pastor started with the usual prayers and sermon. In closing, he paused and turned to face the remaining brother, and he said, “As you all know, the departed was an awful individual who cheated, swindled and stole from everyone here. However, compared to his brother here, he was “a Saint!”
In St. Matthew’s gospel, we read that the Pharisees placed many burdensome regulations upon the people that they were unwilling to practice themselves. Interestingly, Jesus did not criticize them for their teaching. He himself taught many of the same things. No, their greatest fault was not their teaching. It was hypocrisy of their lives. They could easily talk the talk, but they could not walk the walk.
The Pharisees, like many devout religious people of all ages, prided themselves on enlightening the people. There was nothing wrong with that. Every minister of the Gospel should be diligent to teach the Word of God. Every parent should be willing and open to sharing the good news with their family. And every caring friend should be willing and available to share the good news with their neighbor. The problem is when our words no longer match our actions. It’s when we do not practice what we preach.
My friends, Jesus offers an alternative for the way to live out your faith. “Humble yourself,” Jesus says, “For all who humble themselves will be exalted.” That is a challenge in our world today, particularly in the time of the Corona Virus. We are all trying to move ahead, to climb little higher, and make it look like we can champion our enemies on our own. So, culturally and socially we’re drawn to the energetic, dynamic, charismatic, and crowd-drawing cheer leaders. Even in the church. Yes, who wants a low- keyed preacher? They’re not the ones who get the headlines and the attention. But if you listen closely and watch carefully to Jesus, you can see in his own example, someone who is humble, but strong; someone who is humble, but charismatic; someone who is humble, but crowd drawing; someone who is humble, but dynamic.”
People should be attracted to Jesus and the way his followers live their lives and the words they speak. Whether we like it or not, people are watching us and seeing how we respond to the ups and downs of everyday life. Believe me, the eyes of all will be upon you this week. Children watch adults and then imitate what they see and repeat what they hear. Are your words and actions something you want repeated by your children? Your friends, neighbors, coworkers, family members, and classmates are watching you. What evidence do you offer in your profession of faith? Are your responses any different from those of persons who don’t profess to know Christ? Not only are nonbelievers watching you, but so are other Christians. Persons who are new to the faith often look to more-mature Christians. How painful it is when they encounter those religious people who fail to practice what they preach.
I am reminded of the man who was being tailgated by a stressed out woman on a busy boulevard. Suddenly, the light turned yellow, just in front of him. He did the right thing, stopping at the crosswalk, even though he could have beaten the red light by accelerating through the intersection. The tailgating woman was furious and honked her horn, screaming in frustration as she missed her chance to get through the intersection. As she was still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit her car with her hands up. After a few minutes standing on the side of road with many curious gawkers passing by, the policeman came back to her apologizing, “I’m very sorry for this mistake. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, gesturing at guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak, and I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do’ bumper sticker, and the ‘Follow Me to Sunday-School’ bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk, Naturally… I assumed it was a stolen car.” We must learn to practice what we preach.
That is really at the heart of our All Saints remembrance.. The lives we celebrate today, the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues, are being remembered not because they were perfect examples of humility. They may have had their moments. They may have been outgoing and humorous as well. No. For all who knew them, they are being remembered because they chose to be humble and to serve their family and friends first. By choosing to be humble, they are being exalted in our memories. They talked the talk, and walked the walk, and practiced what the preached, if not in all things, in the relationship and work, where it was most needed, in letting Christ’s light shine through them through their words and deeds.
My friends, walking the walk of faith is recognizing that we all make mistakes along life’s way, and that in those moments, we need to humble ourselves and accept God’s grace and forgiveness to start again. What a difference it makes. God does not abandon you for trying. Instead, he draws closer to you. And it is ultimately, out of his love and grace that he leads you to your eternal home. It is the lesson that we must teach our children, because it makes all the difference in how they will accept themselves and the options they choose. That is the life that you and I have been called to share as well. Yes, we must all learn to practice what we believe and what we preach. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.